There are no bad ideas, just poor execution…..terrible, awful execution.
You may have seen those games that go around on social media, such as “Describe a classic movie/video game/novel in the worst way possible”, it shows how easy it is to make any concept seem like the biggest pile of crap imaginable. It was the talent behind these so-named classics that made the idea work, giving them style and depth, despite the potential for the concept to be the worst possible thing. Well my friends, the opposite can be true as well. A great concept, falling way short of expectations because the creative folks involved weren't up to the challenge, too in love with their own vision to make the hard calls in editing to polish it to a shine, or they were simply lazy.
You probably have heard that saying, “If you don't like it go out and make your own version!” There are dozens of people who have done this extensively, arm chair writing or directing their favorite franchise's shortfall. Many people do go out and make their own version in the form of fan works, homages, reinventions and so on. There are hundreds of stories out there adopting ideas that failed to execute properly that ambitious creators set out to fix. It's not all just fan fiction though. You can be inspired to make amazing original works from bad ideas too. I don't mean subconsciously absorb bad ideas into your own work, but rather to see the spark of potential and take it on to forge it into something hopefully better.
For many, it's the challenge of making that poorly handled idea work within their scope. It's easy to get inspired by great works and classics, things that have already blazed a trail and left a positive impression on the audience at large… but so have countless others making it hard for even a good idea to stand out. I too have my own influences from things that people already enjoy, but it's so much more fun, I think, to get your hands a little dirty working with some of the things that went awry and an excellent way to help you stand out from the pack.
I, and most people, don't deliberately seek terrible stories but I do try new things and sometimes that means trying something which turns out to be awful. However, even if you are less adventurous and blessed with impeccable taste, bad ideas do pop up even in good works from time to time (frequently when they just go one too many seasons and failed to set up their new direction properly as the show pivots to new topics, trying to find something new to say or do). When I see them, I set my mind to figuring out where it could have been improved. A good amount of tropes in my work are things I deliberately incorporated because I disliked how they were handled in popular media, and wanted to try my hand at fixing it within the scope of my own narratives.
A lot of “critics” tend to declare certain narrative tropes as “always bad” whenever they crop up in a work due to being mishandled, and I'm not of that mindset. Some ideas are still worth exploring even if they've supposedly been done to death or never done right at all. It's as simple as considering what angle they haven't been explored from and how to do them better.
The important thing is to be mindful of what the fundamental malfunction with the idea was before attempting to fix it. The problem with a lot of bad ideas that make it out into the world to the point that they become “cliche” is that they are an inferior copy of a good idea with a different coat of paint, for a while this can work but invariably the idea becomes a parody of its former greatness and the audience becomes sick of it. This is the pitfall of trying to use a popular and trendy trope. The purpose of the exercise isn't to do the bad idea the same way but with your characters plugged into the roles, but rather it's about examining WHY the idea failed in the first place and finding a genuinely new take on it.
Examining terrible stories also has its advantages outside of giving you a starting point with ideas to try and improve and remold. It can help put you onto an idea, genre or style that your don't normally tap into and help avoid getting stuck in a rut. We've all seen a formerly great writer or director get stuck making inferior variations of their own work until they seem to have totally lost the magic which once made them great. I used to be a big fan of Tim Burton, but my appreciation for his earlier works doesn't necessarily make me forgiving to his more recent endeavors.
Finally, it can simply but perhaps most powerfully give you something to aspire NOT to be which can go a long way in avoiding creating your own failure! When a reboot of the Looney Tunes franchise came out, the writers said they put a poster for a previous iteration, “Loonatics Unleashed”, a dark and edgy superhero reboot of Looney Tunes characters, up on their wall to inspire them NOT to make something like that ever again. My opinions on what they did create instead notwithstanding, this is an example of exactly what I'm talking about, using the precedent of something terrible to inspire yourself to DO BETTER!
What terrible thing have you watched or read that inspired you to make a better story? (I hope it needs not be said, try not to pick on any independent creators with this one!)
What narrative trope would you want to see written well but is very rarely done?
Do you challenge yourself to adapt ideas that people love to hate, or do you shy away from them because of the stigma of the dreaded “cliche”?
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Amelius at 12:04PM, Nov. 18, 2018
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